Testosterone is a hormone that both men and women have. It helps to keep us strong. This is important as we age. In addition, another hormone estrogen is closely linked with testosterone. These hormones can get out of balance and hormone replacement therapy is often prescribed. Exercise is a natural way to help boost these hormones. I believe this is an important reason why staying strong benefits our bodies. Not only are we able to do more physically because we are stronger, but these hormones impact other body functions, too, like fat accumulation and mood. Low hormone levels can trigger fatigue, depression, decreased libido, erectile dysfunction and cognition impairment.
Dan Ritchie, PhD, is cofounder of the Functional Aging Institute and he emphasizes that intense strength training, especially as we age, may be the key to boosting hormone levels. It is important to understand what intense strength training is. I tell my clients to make sure that when they are lifting there is struggle, but not strain. Strain occurs when your body starts to tense (especially the neck and spinal muscles). Some people tend to hold their breath which is also dangerous.
A good indicator that the muscle is being challenged at an appropriate level is if it starts to get harder to push or pull the weight around the 8th repetition. If the very first repetition is difficult then you are using too much weight and if you can still lift the weight after 20 repetitions then you may not be lifting enough (unless you are doing endurance training).
When doing endurance training or “cardio” like running or biking it can be hard to figure out if your intensity is sufficient. If your doctor has said that it is safe for you to undertake an endurance exercise then I have found you should start by staying at a level that you can maintain and still be able to talk. Some people like to do interval training which is when you incorporate short bursts of energy for about 30 seconds.
I like interval training because I believe it challenges our muscles and respiratory system to work at higher levels even though it’s not for a long period of time. I also think it’s good because it works our phosphagen energy system which is often neglected.
How often should you train? 2-3 hours a week is a good place to start. I always say that even if you can only do 15 or 30 minutes at a time, it’s better than nothing. Too many times we blow off exercising because we don’t have the time, but I believe that small opportunities also have benefits, especially psychological ones. So make no excuses and do what you can!!